Coney Island Evacuation Night Journal

Thanks to our production editor, Stephanie Ratcliffe, for her report from south Brooklyn on the eve of the arrival of Hurricane Irene. Stay safe, everyone!

Friday August 26


6:37PM--If I am going to stay away from home for a few days, I am going to need clean clothes. On the way to the nicer neighborhood laundromat, I pass by a family dinner of 8 sitting on the stoop on folding chairs on the sidewalk. The small children are tossing a ball back and forth, the adults are eating fried chicken and the grandmother is sitting quietly.

This laundry is very crowded, but only a block from the beach. I walk ankle deep in the water and call my mom, tell her where I'm staying, what I am doing for my cats while I'm gone. My mother says the city cares about us: we're getting evacuated. I don't have the heart to tell her that evacuation means that if you stay after the warning time, emergency services may not come if you need them. Tough love.

A policeman in uniform stops me in my walk. Part of the beach is already closed. Strange to see a policeman in full uniform so close to the surf. I start back toward my chores.

Outside the laundry, a woman is shouting across the street to another:" The line at the liquor store is like a line at PATHMARK! It's true! All those drunks know there will be no booze till Tuesday! They're gonna be SICK!" True, I thought.

7:10PM--I moved my clothes from washer to the dryer, and then walk toward the liquor store next to my house with the dusk settling in. The family party on the street is breaking up. The children are now holding their toys, not tossing them. The adults look at each other with their arms folded. "But where are you going to BE?" one asks. One asks the grandmother who she is going with. Someone else is asking if they are going to be okay. The answers were all accompanied by shakes of the head.

I hit the liquor store. It's on my way. People have carts full of booze, 4 people in each line. It is just like Pathmark on a Saturday morning. I return home to fill all of my tupperware and bottles with water and stick them in the freezer, hoping the power won't go out for too long, and my grocery shopping from last week will be saved. I call more friends and tell them I'm leaving and where I'll be. Not that they can get to me. It's just hard to do this by myself.

8:15PM When I finally pick up my laundry, the place was empty, except for a large latino woman in skintight white teeshirt and a well-kempt Chinese man cleaning up. I asked him if it is usually like this on Friday nights, and he says usually is. The woman confirmed it must be the storm that took everyone away.

 I dragged my laundry home and then ran straight to the Pathmark.

On my way I passed a woman in a housecoat feeding a dozen hungry feral cats. She stood watching them eat with her hands on her hips. She told me she was worried about them in the coming storm. I told her that feral cats know what to do. I hope I was right.

Sirens wail. They've been going all evening. They seem more frequent and ominous than usual. My landlord calls me. He wants to remind me to leave, but close the windows first.

The parking lot was completely full. So many people, you could trip on anyone's heel at any moment. And it seems like every other shopper is a pregnant woman. A thickly built man in his 40s with a mullet pulled a dolly full of water to its proper section, chanting loudly, "I work the hours, I make the dollars, WATER anyone want WATER? I work the hours, I make the dollars, WATER..." Before he made it to the water section, customers mobbed him. And then he pulled the empty dolly back, chanting only,"I work the hours, I make the dollars..."

I broke my can opener last week. And the supermarket did not have any. I am not worried about food where I am going, but it might be nice to have something at home in case the food in the freezer does go bad. I take this as an opportunity to buy raisins, packets of tuna, bread, and about $40 worth of junk food, including EZ CHEEZ that needs no refrigeration. I would never eat such a thing if it weren't an emergency.

The selfcheckout line is empty, even though all the other checkouts are 7 or 8 carts to a line. People are frantic, and next to each checkout line there is a magazine shelf of unwanted food, some of it meat going bad already.

Shelf of unwanted, spoiling food includes frozen pizza and a cornish gamehen

9:30PM-- I get home, chores done, make dinner. My new bf calls. He doesn't want me to feel alone. I feel good until...

10PM--It's time to eat. I hang up. As I sit down, there's another siren, and then the sound of firecrackers--more than usual, like they are trying to use up the extra ones, like it'll be the last time. It may be. Not only because of this storm, but it's the end of summer.

Stephanie Ratcliffe


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